Hey Parents: Treat Your Healthy Baby Like She’s in Intensive Care!

Readers — Do parents really have to strap a vital signs monitor on their healthy babies? That’s the question David King, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Sheffield in the UK, sought to answer. And frankly, it was easy.


No, babies do not suddenly need a real time, smart phone read-out of their heart rate, muscle movements, temperature, blood oxygen level and “pulse oximitry” (sounds soooo advanced!) . What’s more, the idea that this info prevents Sudden Infant Death syndrome is false. As tzbrenrbfn
King writes in the BMJ
(British Medical Journal):

In the 1980s and 1990s a plethora of similar products was developed and sold with the intention of reducing sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Unfortunately epidemiological studies showed that such devices had no effect on the incidence of SIDS in healthy infants.567 The American Academy of Pediatrics states that home cardiorespiratory monitors should not be used as a strategy to reduce the risk of SIDS.8

And yet, of course, they are. King points out that one company’s president states he was moved to invent a baby vital signs monitor after a relative died of SIDS. Another device’s marketing materials promise to provide the “relief” that comes from “keeping babies safe.”

As if they’re not.

As if the only thing standing between your baby and the guy with the scythe is a device you can buy for a couple hundred bucks that mimics the ones used in neonatal intensive care.

Talk about Worst-First Thinking: “Just because my baby got a clean bill of health doesn’t mean I shouldn’t proceed as if he’s on the edge of the abyss.”

Congratulations, First World. After a generation of making everything else normal seem dangerous — walking to school, playing outside, drinking from a plastic cup — you have finally figured out how to scare us while we stare at our healthy babies safe in their crib.

Now THAT is advanced.

Our bouncing bundle of obsessive, expensive, medically dubious joy!

Our bouncing bundle of obsessive, expensive, medically dubious joy!


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42 Responses to Hey Parents: Treat Your Healthy Baby Like She’s in Intensive Care!

  1. Thea November 21, 2014 at 9:55 am #

    But what’s going to happen when someone buys this and the child still (tragically) dies? I’m sure it will be the lawsuit to end all lawsuits but the refrain will probably still be…”but think of all the children that might be saved!”

  2. Emily Morris November 21, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    Can’t I just enjoy my healthy baby?

  3. Jessica November 21, 2014 at 11:26 am #

    @Thea – this is the reason we don’t have more “safety” devices in carseats. What am I talking about is the sad cases where caregivers accidentally leave a child in the carseat, and people start crying “why isn’t there an alarm that tells you your kid is in the seat”

    It’s because the first time it doesn’t work, the maker will be sued out of existence.

    I think alarms and baby proofing and that sort of device – they make half the population more neurotic, and the other too careless. Check on your baby when you need to, don’t rely on a device, and don’t stress about rare problems.

  4. Warren November 21, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    And all the paranoid parents that use these things, will run to the hospital, and or their doctor when their little china dolls readout even shows the slightest blip.

    All this over protective, over supervised, over the top parenting is a form of paranoia. Why is it not treated as such? If you have to constantly monitor your child’s vitals, and I am not talking about any special needs, so don’t even go there……….if you have to monitor your normally healthy child’s vitals that means one of two things.
    1. You have mental and emotional issues, and need to get help.
    2. You are a piss poor parent that is not ready to be a parent.

  5. Nadine November 21, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    I think as an average trained parental health amateur I could interpet those readouts in two ways.
    1The baby is alive.
    2 the baby is dead.

    ofcourse I could be a below average gadget geek and then it would just mean that the device doesnt get any signal. In wich case I might be in danger of internet ordering a cascet on a life baby.

    So unless the device comes with a medical degree or a 24/7 medical statestion following and explaining the results… Its all greek to me.

  6. SKL November 21, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    Besides, call me crazy, but I don’t like the idea of exposing babies to all those unnecessary radio signals and making them wear constricting socks or whatever holds the monitors on them.

  7. J- November 21, 2014 at 1:02 pm #

    Ours spend the first 6 weeks in the bassinet next to the bed, after that he went to the crib in the other room. My wife cranks the baby monitor up to 11, which I turn down before coming to bed. I check on him before I go to sleep at midnight and again when I get up at 4:30.
    My wife checks in him at 6:00.

    So far he’s still alive.

  8. Emily November 21, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

    Well, just because this product exists, doesn’t mean that people are necessarily stampeding into Babies R Us by the thousands to buy it, right? Here’s hoping the Owlet monitor, Smart Diapers, and everything of that ilk, gets relegated to the hospitals where it belongs.

  9. hineata November 21, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    @Warren – you forget, parenting can cause paranoia in the most usually laid back people . Personally I am very glad these devices didn’t exist for normal people when I had Boy…. I might have gone nuts and bought one. Had a weird obsession with the idea that he might get dehydrated. Absolutely nuts, and thank goodness Hubby and other adults in the family were more normal, and brought me back to Earth in the first six weeks or so 😊.

    And my youngest is 13, I still don’t feel ready to be a parent some days… 😊

  10. Emily Morris November 21, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

    I think the other Emily is right. I like to think that, so far, these products haven’t become as basic a need as a product to keep baby waste off other things.

    Looking at the technology alone, I find these things awesome. Wow! What handy innovations for monitoring babies who are really struggling! Hospitals should look into these! (But just hospitals, not the average parents with a baby with a clean bill of health).

    What we need to do is keep clear the differences between a healthy baby, a not-so-healthy baby who probably doesn’t need to be monitored, and a baby who needs around-the-clock medical monitoring.

  11. I don't even November 21, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    What about making these things Class C? So that you can only get them on prescription?

  12. Kierstin November 21, 2014 at 1:59 pm #

    I feel like the obvious answer to parents fears here is stop putting your baby in a separate room, in a crib far away from you, where you need to rely on technology to “monitor” them. But of course allowing your baby in your room, and heaven forbid your bed, would be coddling them. We Americans prefer obsessive stalking to something as old-fashioned as being close to your baby.

  13. AmyO November 21, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

    This is simply the by-product of not having other things to worry about. There’s no predators, kids aren’t dying of disease or hunger, we have warm homes and safe cars and supermarkets. Since parents don’t worry about the basics anymore, we have to start inventing things to worry about.

  14. Tamara November 21, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

    I admit there was a time that I may have bought into this and I admit it was all based on fear. My experience however was even before my baby was born – with a rented by the month fetal doppler. It claimed you could hear your baby’s heartbeat as early as ten weeks! In the privacy of your own home! I had this item ordered and almost paid for but changed my mind at the last minute as I realized it was that I only wanted it because of my fear of losing my baby to a miscarriage as I had just done three months before. Somehow I thought that if I could constantly check and make sure she was ok, my baby would make it to full term, this time. I’m glad I didn’t do it – not so much because of the cost – which was bad enough, but the constant fear and checking and worrying would have only made those nine months even more stressful. I might as well have put my kids In a plastic bubble the second they came into the world! That baby, by the way, was forcefully announced her way into the world on my living room floor 9 months later after about 15 minutes of labour. No chance to even get her in that bubble if I had still wanted to! Sometimes, things just happen. I can’t waste the time and energy stressing about all of it anymore.

  15. lollipoplover November 21, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    Bleeh. I remember back to being in the hospital after having babies, having my sleep interrupted to read my vitals and remember how miserable I felt. I can’t imagine inflicting that kind of medical torture on my baby for my own selfish delusions.

    I took my (then) 2 year-old daughter to the doctor when her nasty cough wasn’t going away. She was eating, didn’t have a fever, but wasn’t getting any better. This was her first time being sick. The nurse did a pulse-ox on her chubby finger and it read way below normal levels. They called for an ambulance and rushed her to the hospital.

    She loooved the ambulance! She chatted away at the nice EMT’s who told me she looked great. At the hospital, the took her pulse-ox again and it was 98%. So the pulse-ox monitor at the doctors was broken and not reading correctly. They called my doctor and told them of the error. But I still had to pay for this error with an ER copay (but didn’t have to pay for the ambulance).
    I think we rely too much on technology and tests and don’t use our senses anymore. Do they look and sound healthy? Let them sleep! Sleep deprivation from over-using baby monitoring gadgets probably harms more babies than saves them.

  16. Alex November 21, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    A family member was in one of the studies they are citing from the 1980s. She had lost a baby to SIDS, so they thought her next one would be at higher risk. The respiration monitor was worse than useless. It beeped every time the baby held her breath for any reason– usually pooping. Then the baby learned she could hold her breath and everyone would come running, even faster than when she cried. They had to disconnect it after that. So, no, I won’t be getting one for my kids.

  17. Beth November 21, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

    @Kierstin, I’m not sure it’s necessary to come here and criticize parents who prefer cribs, cradles, or a child in his/her own room. Calling what is a personal preference “obsessive stalking” is going a little, no, a lot too far. I’m sure you’d like your personal preferences respected; couldn’t you do the same for others?

  18. Warren November 21, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

    Or we could just put the in their room, go to bed, and pop our heads in when needed. Once they started sleeping thru the night, into their own room. No monitors, no cameras, just the dog making her rounds at night.

    That paranoia, though caused primarily by having the child, is still paranoia, and needs to be dealt with as such.

  19. ChicagoDad November 21, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

    On a related note, is it just me, or have baby products become more of a pain to use in the last few years? It is almost as though the product designers said. “If our product isn’t a huge inconvenience to use, parents won’t believe that they are suffering enough for their children, and they won’t buy it!”

    Our new high chair requires two hands to release the tray–almost no way to do it one-handed. Two hands to release the tray, one to keep the baby from knocking the bowl off the tray, and one to keep the baby from leaning forward out of the chair = 4 hands.

    Our new car seat requires you to press two buttons, one on each side of the seat, simultaneously, just to adjust the car seat handle (like parents are some kind of submarine captains trying to initiate the launch codes). So you either have to bonk the baby’s head on the car seat to set him in it, or set him down, adjust the handle, and then pick him up to get him in. Argghhh!!!

    They probably had easier-to-use versions at first, but the focus group when all hay-wire. “It’s too easy to use! If it is easy for me, it can’t be safe for the baby,” cried one concerned parent. The others concurred. Product designers took notes. Changes were made.

  20. Emily Morris November 21, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

    Reread the article.

    I was checking my baby’s breathing all the time as it was. Why should I play 300$ for a machine to do it for me?

  21. JKP November 21, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

    My friends used something like this for their first baby because they were so terrified of SIDS. I stayed with them for a few days once, and the thing went off several times a night for no apparent reason, probably just the baby shifting position such that the device couldn’t get a reading. It was louder than a fire alarm and woke everyone in the house up, including the now screaming and terrified baby. They didn’t just have to reset the alarm, but also get the baby back to sleep. Repeat multiple times a night. They used it for over a year. I would bet that the chronic sleep interruptions to the baby put it at greater risk of health problems than not using the device at all.

  22. Mark Roulo November 21, 2014 at 6:28 pm #

    Thea: “But what’s going to happen when someone buys this and the child still (tragically) dies?”

    I dunno. Cords on Angelcare baby monitors strangled two kids. I don’t know what the status is on possible lawsuits.

  23. Cynthia812 November 21, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    Alex, your story made me laugh. Babies are so smart, even at that age. And manipulative.

  24. Puzzled November 22, 2014 at 1:43 am #

    Lollipoplover – I teach my students (and my preceptees back when I was a preceptor) the importance of treating the patient, not the number. Give me a patient who seems just fine with a low pulse ox, and I’ll do a clinical assessment – if everything checks out, I’m going with something is wrong with the machine, or it’s not getting a good reading for some reason, such as not being able to differentiate pulsatile impedence from steady – not rushing someone to the hospital just for a number. I don’t know where clinical judgment has gone.

  25. Jenny Islander November 22, 2014 at 2:50 am #

    @Puzzled: At another forum, we call this “but it must be right because it’s a machine that goes Ping!”

    Nobody ever called for a C-section because of an electrical fault in a fetal stethoscope, ‘s all I’m sayin’.

  26. Crystal November 22, 2014 at 8:22 am #

    Another reason why people should have more kids. You just don’t have the time, energy and be-in-10-places-at-once ability to monitor every single moment of each individual child when you have more. I honestly feel much more relaxed now with 3 kids than 1! And the most easy-going moms I know have 4+. Maybe they’re onto something…

  27. Flurry November 22, 2014 at 8:59 am #

    Having your child sleep in his own room is “obsessive stalking”? On what planet?

    I think it’s obsessive stalking to need your child in bed with you every night.

  28. pentamom November 22, 2014 at 9:10 am #

    OT, but that pulse ox story reminds me slightly of my third childbirth. My doctor was delayed due to a power outage trapping his car in his garage, and I got stuck with this nurse who literally sat there and watched the contraction monitor readout instead of looking at or listening to me. (Not that she literally didn’t look at or listen to me, but my appearance and words weren’t what she was paying attention to in her assessment.) I knew labor was progressing even though the monitor didn’t say so. The nurse got a resident to give a quick glance and agree that I should just go home. My husband planted his feet and said we weren’t leaving until our doctor said we should. When he finally showed up, he took a thorough look at ME and determined my water hadn’t broken for some reason even though the contractions were strong enough to proceed to delivery, rather than being false labor. Once that little problem was resolved, my daughter arrived in half an hour. Had I been the person 20 years ago that I am now, I would have filed a complaint about that nurse.

  29. SOA November 22, 2014 at 9:16 am #

    The only babies this might be good for is babies at high risk for SIDS. Preemies for example. I had a preemie and there were nights I was sure he was going to be dead when I went to pick him back up because he was so small and emaciated looking due to prematurity, low birth weight and reflux. They sent him home with me anyway and I was terrified. So I could have definitely used something like this to help me feel better.

    But healthy full term chubby infants don’t need it.

    They are going to be fine from SIDS as long as you follow the rules like back to sleep, no stuffed animals in the crib, no bumpers, firm crib mattress, not putting the baby into bed with you, etc.

  30. Erica November 22, 2014 at 11:33 am #

    I do not think these are needed for every child but I felt the need to say they have saved lives in some cases. Mine for example. My parents lost their first child to SIDS and they decided to buy one back in the eighties (much bigger) and more expensive but it went off a few times because I had stopped breathing in my sleep and it turned out I had sleep apnea, which I’ve completely out grown but it was probably a hereditary issue and probably what killed my parents first child. Certainly we don’t need to freak out for every child but I’ll admit I was worried about my daughter when she was born. Turned out she didn’t need anything but with the family history it was a concern. That being said we didnt even buy one for my daughter but I checked on her a lot in the begining just to be sure she was still breathing.

  31. Mike November 22, 2014 at 11:45 am #

    As a parent who actually had to hook their infant son up to a pulse oximeter every night and put him on oxygen if his levels dropped too low, I have no idea why you would do this if it weren’t medically necessary.

  32. JaneW November 22, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    Now, for healthy babies, this is pretty dumb. There are going to be false alarms all the darned time.

    However, some evidence is emerging that links SIDS to apnea or heart rate abnormalities which can be detected right after birth. What would actually be a good idea is if they found a way to screen babies in the hospital, figured out which ones were at risk, and set them up with extra monitoring. It would cut SIDS and give peace of mind to the majority of parents.

    But that’s the difference between actual medical research and creative people looking to sell “solutions” with no clear evidence of benefit.

  33. Flurry November 22, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

    If SIDS and other abnormalities can be detected shortly after birth, why are mothers and newborns sent home basically the next day after childbirth? If there were really a push to keep babies from dying (and I’m not at all convinced there’s an epidemic of this to begin with), then why not keep them in the hospital just like they did just a generation ago?

  34. Bridget November 22, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    We are going to have a whole generation of hypochondriacs.

  35. Puzzled November 22, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    Jenny – totally agree. I haven’t even been in this field all that long, but either some major changes happened between when I entered 20 years ago and now, or I just got lucky to have good teachers. My instructors taught me:
    1. Be aggressive with airways
    2. Be conservative with everything else, you can’t take out a med once you give it
    3. Treat your patient, not your monitor
    4. Your treatment is only as good as your ability to make clinical judgments based on looking at your patient

    I have just begun to teach EMT students, and I try to teach at least some of these skills (some don’t apply), but it’s rough – there seems to be a deep opposition in many of them to actually looking at patients and making decisions based on gait, general orientation, etc., instead of something they can put a number on.

  36. A.S. Rose November 23, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

    Interesting article! When it comes to the kids ears though, check out OtoscopeApp.com and check them out with your iphone! Ear wax? Signs of an ear infection? … check yourself & send a pic or video to the doctor!

    Free app available at the iTunes AppStore (search otoscopeapp) and the adapter device is available at:


  37. Deena November 23, 2014 at 10:58 pm #

    My 24 y/o son was not coddled or “helicoptered”. He served in the US Army in Afghanistan and is now home safely. If I didn’t let him have some freedom and fun, I would have been much more worried about him. I let him walk home from school and help cook. Parents who “helicopter” are doing a major disservice to their children. I grew up with 4 siblings and learned to babysit, wipe their passifier on my pants, then spit on it before sticking it back in their mouth. Oddly enough, none of them have ever been sick. I believe all the antibacterial soap and excessive cleanliness is why kids have so many allergies today. The average 20 something is a spoiled, selfish, unambitious, uneducated moron. I shudder every time I hear them speak, especially when they are so ignorant of American History. I am afraid for the future of our country.

  38. Asya November 23, 2014 at 11:55 pm #

    Yes Deena, those moron 20-somethings must have birthed and raised themselves!

  39. Papilio November 24, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

    Heh heh. Yesterday I watched some young parents put the pacifier right off the floor back into their baby’s mouth, several times. Miraculously their 8- and 4-year-old are still alive…

  40. Emily November 28, 2014 at 11:22 am #

    Another thing–The Owlet baby monitor might be a useful tool for training medical students. One monitor could be put on a healthy baby, and another on a medically fragile baby, for comparison. However, I still think it’s a dumb idea for regular home use for parents of average, healthy children. When does it end? When do these “Owlet” parents remove the monitors? Are they going to go looking for something bigger when their child outgrows the Owlet (which is about the age when conscious, lasting memories start to form), or panic when they can’t find any such thing? I can’t imagine how emotionally crippling it’d be to be for a healthy child to be hooked up to various medical devices for their whole childhood, “just to make sure everything’s okay.” It’d be like Colin from The Secret Garden–everyone thinks he needs to be in a wheelchair, until he just stands up and walks one day, when Mary and Dickon get him to come out of his room and accompany them to the garden.

  41. Lindsay December 2, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

    I don’t see the use for a healthy baby. Mine was born at 33 weeks and sent home at 35 weeks. Was off monitors for four hours and I’d never nursed him before they packed him up and sent him home. I was terrified since he stopped breathing multiple times in the NICU and did it the morning they sent him home. I would have loved for something like this but I admit that I was paranoid for the first six months, until they figured out he had horrible asthma that made him stop breathing. Now he’s a pretty healthy four year old (his birthday was today!) besides asthma that causes any cold to turn into a hospital stay due to breathing issues and autism. I’ve let go of a lot of things that used to terrify me in the last four years!

  42. Ruken December 3, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    Lenore, would you be able to do a blog entry about health insurance and health insurance individual plans? This article intrigued me: